Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a progressive, fatal, neurodegenerative disease of cervids (deer, elk, reindeer, and moose). The infectious agent is a misfolded form of the endogenous prion protein. The normally folded form of the protein is found throughout the body, with the highest concentration in the brain, spinal cord, and lymphoid tissues. With infection, the misfolded form accumulates in the highest concentration in the brain, spinal cord and lymphoid tissues along the alimentary tract. Clinical signs of CWD infection can take years to develop, prior to which animals without clinical signs can still spread disease. Chronic wasting disease belongs to a family of diseases called prion diseases or transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). Other TSEs include bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle, scrapie in sheep and goats, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.
Chronic wasting disease continues to spread in farmed and wild cervids and is of particular concern because the disease can spread at the interface between farmed and wild cervids. CWD is spread through direct animal-to-animal contact via infected body fluids and/or excreta, or indirectly through contact with CWD-contaminated items in the environment, such as soil and other fomites; however, all modes of transmission have yet to be determined.
Today, there are two official postmortem diagnostic tests for CWD surveillance in cervids: Immunohistochemistry and the ELISA test. Immunohistochemistry (considered the gold standard) and the ELISA test both utilize brain and lymph node tissue. The ELISA test is commonly employed by wildlife agencies.
While these two tests are routinely used, they have limited ability to test live animals and cannot be used for samples such as feces, blood, and saliva. CWD has a long incubation period between exposure and clinical signs. Development of an accurate live animal diagnostic assay could allow the detection of disease earlier, limiting direct and indirect transmission.
Our goal is to inspire the innovative development of a novel diagnostic test that will successfully detect CWD in samples provided by USDA for this challenge. Competitive solutions to this challenge shall consist of novel diagnostic tests that are sensitive and specific for CWD, producing timely and repeatable results on samples easily obtained from live deer. Competitive solutions will also be cost-effective and readily manufacturable. The ideal solutions to this challenge are diagnostic tests that would be eligible for approval as an official Chronic Wasting Disease test by the Administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), USDA.